Golf Academy at West Haven
Virgil Herring, 2002, 2003, 2005 & 2006 Middle-TN PGA Teacher of the Year and 2003 TN PGA Section Teacher of the Year.

Focus on Training Aids- Tools of the Trade
Some PGA Professionals have more success using and selling training aids than others
By SCOTT KRAMER

You're the instructor, we know. But it never hurts to have a little help in the classroom, or the range in your case. Which is why this month we present to you some of the latest training aids available on the market.

Some are designed to help PGA teaching professionals, others to assist students. Thus, if you can't use any of the items in the chart on the pages that follow, either on the practice range or in your golf shop, you may be able to recommend them to your students.

What Professionals Look For

There are many training aid preferences as there are teaching styles and learning keys. Essentially, an aid is most effective with particular students with whom it strikes the right chord. Virgil Herring, PGA director of instruction at Gaylord Hotel's Springhouse Links in Nashville and owner/founder of the Higher Performance Golf Academy in Old Hickory, Tenn., is devoted to teaching amateurs how to improve their golf game. In fact, Herring was the Tennessee PGA Section Teacher of the Year in 2003. So with all of his experience in instruction, and with his livelihood depending on it, Herring is specific with how he uses training aids and what he's seeking when he adds one to his repertoire.

"I look to see if it trains the students in a way that can enhance muscle memory and feel without them having to engage the brain," says Herring. "I don't want my students to have to put too much conscious effort into in while training with an aid."

Mike Herrick, PGA director of golf at Shaker Hills Country Club in Harvard, Mass., agrees, claiming that plainness is the best guideline when choosing a training aid. That's particularly important for beginners, who can quickly get overwhelmed focusing on too many aspects of a swing.

"For them, I love using a weighted club with a grip trainer because it's simple," says Herrick.

Sarah Richards, PGA director of golf at Cannon Golf Club in Cannon Falls, Minn., prefers to use proven products with her students. That is, she looks for "training aids that are basically fool-proof. In other words, there is no doubt what the training aid is designed to do. Also, I look for aids that are portable so that both staff members and golfers will take them to the practice areas. If they're too cumbersome, no one wants to haul them around."

Rightly so, Richards is so particular about which training aids her staff uses that she has been known to doctor some up, to get them to emphasize what she feels is important. Or she merely takes a proven concept and has it made exactly to her liking. For example, putting tracks are popular these days. And Richards noticed that many of her members were taking an outside stroke. "For those who have this problem there are numerous cure-alls out there, but for us the most effective has been the 2x4 or wooden dowel either painted to help visually, or plain for immediate physical feedback," says Richards.

Since she couldn't find a product on the market that accomplished what she wanted, she hired a local sheet metal shop to cut and smooth an aluminum angle iron. "The angle-iron is fully adjustable, light-weight and very portable; it even fits in most golf bags," she says. "I've dressed them up occasionally with paint or stickers, but once the golfer sees the benefits, the aesthetics aren't as important."

How to Use Them with Lessons

Several PGA Professionals interviewed for this story said that during lessons, they prefer using Momentus Golf's Momentus Swing Trainer, because it helps develop positive muscle memory and flexibility and can promote the proper swing path. These same PGA teaching professionals aid it's the training aid they would most suggest to students to buy on their own. For putting, several PGA Professionals thought that the Putting Arc was the best training aid on the market.

If you get to know which training aids are available, you may be able to recognize the opportunity when a student can benefit from one. "If I see that what I am trying to convey to students is radically different than what they already do, I will make some recommendations," says Herring. "I also recommend training aids to my very best players so they can train their swing when I am not around."

Although he has used the Momentus Swing Trainer for warming up students prior to lessons and the Swing Jacket on other occasions, Zack Veasey, PGA director of golf at Hillandale Golf Club in Durham, N.C., is very cautious about using any training aid during a session.

"They're all keys to certain specific tendencies in the swing," he says. "But you'd have to have a huge menu of aids at your fingertips to apply them to what you want to do on a daily basis."

And that's exactly why Herrick says e suggests students use a training aid "when they're having trouble with specific issues. Sometimes the repetitions aren't enough to help them gain the sensation and feel of proper techniques. When it comes to an issue of tempo, I might suggest an aid such as a metronome."

If only he'd known about the new Swing-Tempo from GP Golf Innovations, Herrick says he would have been able to recommend it sooner instead of the metronome.

Selling Training Aids

In fact, if Herrick were to stock the Swing-Tempo, as well, he might be able to make a few extra dollars for his golf shop. Many PGA Professionals tell us their students and customers, alike, commonly ask about training aids that they've seen featured on either infomercials, The Golf Channel or on the practice range. Yet the same PGA Professionals tell us that they don't sell any aids.

Savvy PGA teaching professionals who stock a few of the more-popular devices, or gadgets that they believe in, are likely to boost golf-shop sales. Richards, for instance, says she stocks a swing track, a putting track and various Momentus products in her shop. "I also like to work with the company Golf Around the World (founded by PGA Master Professional Gary Wiren) because they have a terrific catalog and they have good programs for PGA Professionals," she says. Is your shop missing this opportunity?

Maybe or maybe not, depending on the demand. Veasey, a national PGA Merchandiser of the Year for public facilities, says he's tried selling training aids on various occasions but it's just never worked out.
"For several reasons, I choose to no longer sell them," says Veasey. "I don't have a lot of space to display them. And when you see their return on investment, especially in my shop, it's not a good move for me. Unless a training aid sells itself, it's something you have to work very hard to sell. People don't often ask for them. I'm quick at the trigger to stock anything, but these have not pulled us any success. I like opportunities, and this is not one."

  • For information on Virgil Herring's instructional CD-ROM, click here.
  • If you have a question concerning an area of the golf swing or the short game, click here to email Higher Performance Golf Academy.

Virgil is Director of Instruction at:
Westhaven Golf Club
2140 Boyd Mill Pike
Franklin, TN 37064
(615) 579-5190
(Click here for directions)

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